Education in crisis

SA lagging decades behind first-world levels, expert says

South African children are failing to acquire even the most basic levels of literacy and numeracy and it will take the country 34 years to get to the level of education offered in first-world countries.

These and other burning issues were highlighted at a seminar hosted by the General Motors South Africa (GMSA) Foundation yesterday at the Eastcape Training Centre (ETC) in Struandale.

Attended by academics, education officials, teachers and parents, the colloquium highlighted problems in the South African education system specifically in foundation phase education.

This was followed by active discussions on how to combat these issues.

Apart from poor literacy levels, academics from Stellenbosch University identified four further distinctive constraints negatively affecting teaching and learning in schools across the country. These are:

      • Weak institutional functionality (state capacity);
      • Undue union influence;
      • Weak teacher content knowledge and pedagogical skills; and
      • Wasted learning time.
In his presentation the co-author of the report “Identifying Binding Constraints in Education”, Professor Servaas van der Berg, said the quality of education in South Africa was weak.

“Without proper education, poverty and inequality cannot be addressed.”

Reading and literacy were major issues, and early-grade reading should be prioritised, he said.

Large foundation-phase classes and a lack of accountability by officials and teachers were also problematic.

Education economist Dr Gabrielle Wills said resolving systematic problems was a challenging task.

She said 58% of South African children had not learnt to read for meaning in any language by the end of Grade 4.

“It will take 34 years for South Africa to get to the level of non-Asian OCED [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries.”

Wills said not enough work was being done and not enough support being offered to foundation phase teachers.

“We need to ensure children are able to access education in the foundation phase . . . reading is a key issue,” she said.

GMSA Foundation education project manager Andre Forbes said the report was compelling and the foundation was eager to support an expanding dialogue about understanding how to set about making a real difference where it mattered most.